Who Keeps the Pet During Divorce?

May 12, 2023

The concern for the pet’s custody arises when more than one person claims their ownership of a dog, cat, birds, or other domesticated animal. This leads to a conflict in deciding the pet’s custody rights. However, unlike human children, pets are considered tangible property of the owners with sentimental value attached to them which is irreplaceable with money or any other consideration. 

Why a Pet's Custody Matters

According to ASPCA, more than 35% households in the United States own a cat, while more than 44% are dog owners. Most of the pet owners consider their pets to be a part of the family, making it difficult for them to imagine losing their pets in divorce or separation from their spouse. This makes determining who gets the pets after divorce or separation, a difficult legal matter that needs to be resolved.

Legal recognition of pets often contradicts the public view of pet owners. Due to the inconsistencies in the law regarding pet’s custody matters, courts need to update how they help couples work through disagreements over pet ownership and custody rights, keeping in view the popularity of pet owners has continued to increase each year. It's not surprising that the legal system is gradually coming around to the idea that pets are more than just property.

Who Gets to Keep the Pet?

It is most likely that the partner who bought the pet into the family is naturally going to be awarded custody of the pet after divorce. However, there are other factors that the court takes into account when deciding who gets custody of the pet. The most common question the court considers is whether the pet is a separate or a marital property, i.e., whether the partner owned the pet before marriage or was bought jointly during the marriage. A pet, however, might easily become a commingling, or the property of one spouse that becomes joint property after marriage.

It is most likely for the court to consider the pet a joint property of the couple, if the pet’s needs (including vet’s bills, pet food, pet house, and other essentials to ensure the pet's well being) were bought using marital or joint funds of the couple, it is most likely that the court will consider the pet a marital property of the couple. 

The parent who has the custody of the children is also likely to be awarded the pet’s custody since the court considers it to be in the best interest of the children to keep the pet after parent separation or divorce. 

Sharing Custody of a Pet

The responsibilities of the pet are often distributed amongst all the family members in the household. But what happens when the pet owners decide to split up? Each party takes on more of the pet's caretaking duties, and the two parties work out an arrangement for joint pet custody.

 It is important to establish the rightful owner of the pet, normally it is the one who registers and renews the pet's license. Next step is to divide up the cost that goes into looking after the pet (such as medical care, food, and supplies). 

Once cost and ownership of the pet are settled amicably, you can mutually divide the days the pet is going to be living with either party. The parties should consider prolonging the periods of the custody arrangements to allow the dogs and/or cats to adjust themselves into the new home. And lastly, it is important to ensure that both the household your pet is living with is on the same page with training sessions with your dog or cat. 

Hire an Attorney For Help!

If you are facing the issue of pet’s custody in a divorce, get in touch with the top Ventura Family Law Attorneys in your area. An experienced child custody attorney can provide you with the best legal advice for pet custody. Moreover, a child custody attorney may also help you draft a custody agreement between the spouse in the event of a divorce or separation. 

If you need representation in a legal dispute over pet custody, an experienced child custody attorney can assist you through the complex and frequently evolving legal landscape. If you have a seasoned attorney fighting for your rights, the chances of winning your pet’s custody will naturally increase. 

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Emiy Watson

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